Buckingham and Rochester:
PERHAPS THE TWO MOST NOTORIOUS OF THE COURT WITS, GEORGE Villiers, duke of Buckingham, and John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, reveal surprising vulnerability through baroque techniques in the midst of neoclassical forms. Both baroquely ventriloquize, displacing onto others emotions that ironically rebound upon themselves. Thus their meaning is ultimately reflective, reflexive.
Buckingham, married to Mary, the daughter of Lord Thomas Fairfax, carried on an infamous affair with Anna-Maria, the countess of Shrewsbury, in the mid-1660s. Finally challenged to a duel by her husband in 1667, the duke ran the earl through. Although the public was scandalized, Buckingham was not, and he outrageously sent his wife back to her father and moved his mistress into Wallingford House with him. She bore him a child, to whom he gave his own name and his own courtesy title at birth, earl of Coventry, and whom, when the son died an infant, Buckingham even more outrageously ordered to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
Although Shrewsbury lived with Buckingham in such a defiant mode for only a short while, it was not until 1674 that the House of Lords, acting on a petition by the earl’s teenaged heir, forced the adulterous lovers apart, upon pain of forfeiture of bonds of ten thousand pounds apiece.1 Shrewsbury went to France and returned two years later, marrying another man and returning to Court (Phipps 248n).
One of Buckingham’s rare full-length poems is titled “The Lost